The abrupt demise of the 168-year-old News of the World and subsequent collapse of Rupert Murdoch's grand plan to corner the British TV market demonstrate yet again that those who live by the sword, die by the sword.
It should be acknowledged, however, that Murdoch and the NoW didn't invent anything-goes journalism and that phone hacking is just a high-tech version of murky methods employed by tabloid journalists since the invention of the printing press.
The 1928 play The Front Page, written by two former Chicago Daily News reporters, evokes an amoral world in which fortune favours the unscrupulous.
In his willingness to go to any lengths to get his own way, the character of the ruthless editor Walter Burns can be seen as a prototype Murdoch. (In the 1974 film adaptation, Burns is played by Walter Matthau, who coincidentally bears a more-than-passing resemblance to the younger Rupert.)
The play's enduring popularity - there have been four film versions and four extended runs on Broadway - suggests the public relates to its portrayal of journalism as the last refuge of the profoundly cynical. Perhaps that's not surprising seeing one of the first pieces of folk wisdom we have drummed into us is that you can't believe everything you read in the newspapers.
According to writer Patrick Marnham, the 1960s Fleet Street stereotype of the investigative journalist was "a cheerful rogue with his foot in your door who was prepared to do anything legal, and quite a lot that was illegal, in order to get a story".
So it was hardly a genteel world that Murdoch barged into in 1969 when he acquired the NoW, a UK toehold that would expand into an elephantine footprint.
He just had the nerve, the stomach and the imagination to take a successful formula and push it further and harder than his rivals. Soon the satirical magazine Private Eye had dubbed the Australian arriviste "the Dirty Digger" and his paper the "News of the Screws".
Murdoch then acquired the Sun, which broke new tabloid ground with its rascally blend of page three D cups, gossip and showbiz, brilliant headlines (Swedes 2, Turnips 1 after England lost a crucial European Cup qualifier) and council-house jingoism that reached its zenith - or nadir - with the "Gotcha" headline celebrating the sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano.
The Sun became the tabloid top dog, providing Murdoch with cash flow and political influence which he gleefully wielded.
Phone hacking is a logical extension of the mindset that generated chequebook journalism, rifling through people's rubbish, and the elaborate stings and set-ups that entrapped Kiwi Olympic hero Mark Todd, among others: you do whatever it takes to get an exclusive.
The anything-goes culture invites trouble because in reality anything doesn't go: there will always be no-go areas. But those who tend to rise to the top in that environment generally don't come with an in-built failsafe device which warns them when they're going too far.
Understandably: when you're being encouraged to push boundaries, sounding a note of caution outs you as a faint heart.
Until now, the NoW and its rivals have largely got away with outrageous behaviour and gutter journalism because they've been able to claim - however spuriously - that they were serving the public interest.
If the NoW had drawn the line at hacking celebrities' and politicians' phones, it might have continued to get away with it. By hacking a murdered girl's voicemail, the paper ventured beyond cynicism and unseemliness into a moral wasteland where indifference to tragedy becomes a virtue. And by tampering with evidence and covering up its activities, it is exposed as actively thwarting the public interest.
The firestorm of outrage that swept through Westminster this week was partially powered by self-interest. Having danced and twitched at Murdoch's prompting for four decades, Britain's politicians sense they've been handed a historic opportunity to cut the puppet master's strings.
One of the mysteries of modern times is why the British have allowed press barons, some of them foreigners, to accumulate so much power. More often than not, this power has been exercised without responsibility, the "prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages", in Kipling's memorable phrase.
Having treated Britain's institutions, its great and good and its way of life with thinly disguised contempt for so long, Murdoch now faces the prospect of being cut down because of the NoW's callousness over a single, pitiful death.
If he was still looking over his UK editors' shoulders rather than having moved on to bigger things, Murdoch's finely honed populist instincts might have warned him that while the placid, sentimental British public will put up with a lot, it would never stand for that.By Paul Thomas Email Paul